Yiddish Word of the Week

Feb 01

Anonymous asked: is word for newborn naphish not kimpotkind

The word for newborn with which I’m familiar is kimpetkindNefesh is generally used for “soul” or “creature,” as in Hebrew, the language from which it derives.

Dec 19

Anonymous asked: Hello! A quick question: So "tate" is dad, and "tateleh" is the diminutive—but is "tateleh" also just an endearing term for anyone someone loves? I hear it used most often when a mother is addressing her child, and this is the way it's used in those SNL Linda Richman skits, but I was wondering if that was "real" Yiddish or more of an American thing.

Tatelemamele, and bobele certainly are authentic Yiddish diminutives, but when they started being used as endearments for young children, as opposed to for fathers, mothers, and grandmothers, respectively, is unclear to me. My searches in dictionaries and other sources have, unfortunately, turned up empty. It may be, as you say, that these usages only began after the War (in America or Israel); I honestly do not know. My own instinct would be to say that they preceded that point, since I’m not sure what about American or Israeli linguistic culture would prompt the development of these usages, but, again, I can’t say for certain, and the existing evidence (from silence) seems to be against this. Either way, it is a great question which deserves to be studied by someone more experienced than me.

Dec 17

Anonymous asked: How should I pronounce "Chale" in a Jewish Bakery?

Probably the same way you pronounce it outside a Jewish bakery. As far as I know, there is no official Jewish bakery etiquette that requires that you pronounce the word in a particular way. So, if you’re used to saying khale, say khale. If you’re used to hallah, say that. If khallah or khalloh, those work, too. I think anything goes, as long as the clerk serving you understands your meaning. Worst comes to worst, you clarify by means of a description…

Dec 11

peterhk asked: A slightly silly question, maybe, but I see that one of you is named Shaul. One of my uncles was Shail (at least that's how it was pronounced) which I guess is another version of the same name (Saul in English). Do you know if that's right? Is Shail the Yiddish version and Shaul the Hebrew one? TIA again, and thanks for your informative answers.

The simple answer to your question is yes. See Alexander Beider, A Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names: Their Origins, Structure, Pronunciation, and Migrations(Bergenfield, NJ: Avotaynu, Inc., 2001), 424, who lists Sheyl (or, in your spelling, Shail) as the Northeastern (=Lithuanian) Yiddish pronunciation of Hebrew Sha’ul (pronounced Shoyel in Central and Southeastern Yiddish).

Dec 10

Anonymous asked: What happened to the Yiddish word of the week coming out weekly? The last time was 3 months ago

YWOTW is currently on hiatus due to looming deadlines, but we will be back soon!

Dec 05

peterhk asked: A dank! Sorry to keep going on about this, but Weinreich gives מויל= moyl for (animal) mouth. Someone who does a bris is a moyel (מוהל). Is there much difference in pronunciation? TIA!

My version of Weinreich does not define moyl as having anything to do with animals in particular, just: “mouth; (gun) muzzle; orifice.” I still think pisk is the word reserved for animal mouths.

The pronunciation of the two words is in fact similar, though, depending on the speaker, there may be a bit of an extra vowel added in for the person who does the bris: moy-el. The word for “mouth” has a syllabic l at the end.

Anonymous asked: Regarding pisk in the previous post: I remember that sour puss people were called "fruma pishkes" in my family, loosely translated as strict face. So, rather than punim, maybe pisk as a slang...just connecting dots. zie ga zunt. Shariellen

Sounds like a good interpretation to me! Especially because makhn piskes means “to make faces.” Seems likepisk could stand in for the whole face in certain Yiddish expressions via synecdoche.

Dec 04

peterhk asked: Sorry if this is a bit long, but one of the songs on the album "Live in Fiddler's House" (Klezmer Conservatory Band with Itzhak Perlman, great recording BTW) has the lyric "Geb zhe mir dayn piskele, geb zhe mir ayn kish" which I thought was "Give me your lips, give me a kiss". However I see that "pisk" is actually "snout", or impolite slang for mouth (implying animal mouth). Does "piskele" make it nicer? TIA!

The diminutive -l or -ele ending is often used as an endearment. I would suspect that whoever authored the song felt that the diminutive of the normal word for a mouth,maylkhele, didn’t sound as sweet or endearing as piskele, even though, as you note, pisk, as opposed to moyl, usually connotes an animal mouth or snout.

Nov 29

peterhk asked: "Maybe instead it was geferlekh?" Could well be! She certainly said it with a note of sarcasm. I was thinking that maybe it was a Yiddish variant of the German word "gefällig", which can mean "pleasing", but your idea sounds more likely.

The verb gefeln exists in Yiddish as well with the meaning “to please.” However, I’m not aware of an adjectivegefelik/g in traditional Yiddish (perhaps more Germanicized Yiddish used such a word). That’s why I thought it might have been geferlekh

Nov 27

peterhk asked: I can remember my grandmother talking with her friend, and saying with a sarcastic wave of her hand (as best I can recall) "gefellige meyse". I think this means "wonderful story". Is that right. TIA!

Hmmm, I’m a little stumped by this one. The normal Yiddish word for “wonderful” is vunderlekh, but it doesn’t seem like that’s what you heard. Maybe instead it was geferlekh? The word literally means “terrible” - just the opposite of “wonderful” - but perhaps that was exactly your grandmother’s intention with her sarcastic wave of the hand?